The RockmusicRaider officescape likes drama. Especially a loud drama with a lot of boom and bang. And we have remarkable drama queens around the Gothic and Symphonic Metal universe, blackened and death-oriented ones included. Just think about Dimmu Borgir or Fleshgod Apocalypse to name just two of them.
Now, here we can add another one: The Swiss outfit Xaon rumbles onto the scene like Mad Max on a bad day. They already gave us a first broadside of what they can do in 2016 with their EP Face of Balaam. And they are back with a hammer blow of a record disguised beneath a simple and almost nihilistic art cover in blue and gray shades. How misleading things can be. Because their newest full-length album The Drift is anything but simple, weak, or – Loki forgive – nihilistic.
After some intro of luckily only 20 seconds or so, Xaon seriously kick the horses in Terra Incognita and let loose with a fucking war cry. And there I was already grinding my teeth, gathering courage for five minutes of wailing and piping. But never fear, The Drift continues its wild ride towards shores unknown without breaking stride.
Them mountain boys from the Valais yell into the wilderness as if they were to call the aforementioned Fleshgod Apocalypse to their table. They indeed navigate very near – almost too near – to the latter. Yet Xaon distinguish themselves with better symphonics and for sure a much more mature switch between clear vocals and growls. In addition, their record, whilst deliciously chaotic and dissonant, keeps better track of coherence. In contrast, their Italian brethren entangled themselves big time, gyrating in too many directions at once. Looks like Xaon drank to their confusion or something.
But back to the review at hand. The Drift is – if anything – much more mature than their former EP. They pretty much lost their Metalcore (some is still there) and got ahold of some symphonically charged, power-infused Melodic Death Metal. The growling sometimes kind of sounds like Arch Enemy with a male front, clean vocals, and without the trademark riffing and soloing of the latter. Not that The Drift does not serve its fair share of solos.
Unfortunately, a lot of their metal risks losing itself in this noisy wall of sound that often threatens to overwhelm the rest. So here – again – we have a record that decks itself out in undue loudness. But to their credit, nothing really disappears in yonder pit of soundless screams. Which means that – luckily – the mixing and mastering job is pretty well balanced out.
Yet again, the delivery depends on the equipment you play your music on. The Harman Kardon sound system in RMR‘s fancy carriage could hardly manage it. Yet high-end – and I mean really high-end – earphones can untangle this fruit salad actually pretty well. And this is not a very comfortable proposition.
But bitching and moaning apart, I love Xaon‘s sturdy songwriting, the musical savvy, and the raw energy emanating from The Drift. It is this imaginary vapor emanating from the disc that you inhale, and it gets into your bloodstream. Whilst the first tracks are not bad, just wait until you get to mid-point. Frozen Shroud and Zarathustra (the one Nietzsche wrote about, I reckon) will take you on a pretty wild ride. Excellent clear voice passages, expert growls, and sturdy riffing and soloing sprinkle both tracks. A real delight.
In truth, the tracks towards the bottom of the list grow definitely more refined, whereas the earlier songs deliver a heftier, brutal crunch. On the Nature of Flights is a good example, closely followed by Kadath al Khold. A cool nod towards our good, old friend Lovecraft.
Let me at this point out the pretty staunch drum work. Inherently heavy and somewhat bloated with blast beats, the band nevertheless always found just the right amount of knocking about the drums. This puts them apart from other bands that let the drummer take over like the frenzied Animal on The Muppets. Yet, ’tis a delicate balance and The Drift is never far away from tipping it.
In the end, the rawness level on Face of Balaam hovered around the extra-rare mark. The current album sits somewhere in between rare and medium-rare, yet without losing any of its bite. Xaon issued a much more refined album with a stronger focus on Melodic Death Metal, epically scaled and armed with a strong gothic and symphonic twist. The Drift clearly is one of the metal delights of this summer.
So, methinks that the likes of Fleshgod Apocalypse got themselves some serious company. And Xaon just opened up with them bow chasers, coming on strong. Cool stuff, I like it.
Ed’s note: Oh, and do check out their newest album called Solipsis. You’re gonna like it.